Radical Nothing

“Better to do nothing than to engage in localized acts whose ultimate function is to make the system run more smoothly. The threat today is not passivity, but pseudo-activity, the urge to “be active”, to “participate”, to mask the Nothingness of what goes on. People intervene all the time, “doing something”; academics participate in meaningless “debates,” etc.; but the truly difficult thing is to step back, to withdraw from it all. Those in power often prefer even “critical” participation or a critical dialogue to silence, since to engage us in such a “dialogue” ensures that our ominous passivity is broken. The “Bartlebian act” I propose is violent precisely insofar as it entails ceasing this obsessive activity-in it, violence and non-violence overlap (non-violence appears as the highest violence), likewise activity and inactivity (the most radical thing is to do nothing).

Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes


See also

The Bezos backlash: Is ‘big philanthropy’ a charade? By Joe Miller, BBC Business Reporter

Don’t put a Band-Aid on cancer

“According to Anand Giridharadas, Mr Carnegie’s approach helped give rise to mass inequality.Mr Giridharadas, whose book Winners Take All tackles the so-called “charade” of modern philanthropy, characterises Carnegie’s approach as “extreme taking followed by extreme giving”.The super rich, he argues, stop short of “transforming the system atop which they stand”.While Mr Bezos’s donation is admirable, he says, it does not tackle the “deep and complex root causes” of homelessness and poverty in the US – which include Amazon itself, as the firm has been a beneficiary of the new world of precarious employment.A good motto for the likes of Mr Bezos, he suggests, would be: “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what you have already done to your country.”


“What about animals slaughtered for our consumption? who among us would be able to continue eating pork chops after visiting a factory farm in which pigs are half-blind and cannot even properly walk, but are just fattened to be killed? And what about, say, torture and suffering of millions we know about, but choose to ignore? Imagine the effect of having to watch a snuff movie portraying what goes on thousands of times a day around the world: brutal acts of torture, the picking out of eyes, the crushing of testicles -the list cannot bear recounting. Would the watcher be able to continue going on as usual? Yes, but only if he or she were able somehow to forget -in an act which suspended symbolic efficiency -what had been witnessed. This forgetting entails a gesture of what is called fetishist disavowal: “I know it, but I don’t want to know that I know, so I don’t know.” I know it, but I refuse to fully assume the consequences of this knowledge, so that I can continue acting as if I don’t know it.”
Slavoj Žižek, Violence

post tenebras lux

Post Tenebras Lux: After Darkness, Light. The motto of Reformation Geneva.

The Jesus of the Reformers was the Light shining in the darkness of a satanic world, and of an apostate Christendom ruled by a diabolic Pope.

Yet who is to say whether the Reformers brought light and not darkness?  Perhaps it was some strange light, neither daylight nor twilight, a light of mixed hues like that which follows a Highveld storm: intense, brooding, refracted by tumultuous clouds and rent by lightning. Post Tenebras Lux: perhaps. But what was this light that followed the Dark? And what of the shadows that Light still casts today? It is not a rhetorical question: I genuinely do not know what to make of this Light of which the motto speaks. The Anabaptists, persecuted for their beliefs, would have seen not God’s Holy light in the Lutheran armies that pursued them – but the light in the eyes of fanatical murderers.

I have heard it said by way of explanation that these were fanatical times, that Calvin and Luther were no more murderous than the Catholic Church of the time which itself tortured and burnt what it considered heretics and miscreants. I’m not sure this argument made by Calvinists is convincing; the Anabaptists seem more Christian to me than their persecutors – just as the Cathars (between the 12th and 14th centuries) seemed more reasonable and enlightened than the Catholic crusaders sent to exterminate them. Yet it is true that Protestant and Catholic saw eachother as the epitome of evil; they were as intolerant of eachother as they were of those outside of Christendom – the Jews, the Moslems, the pagans.

The Reformers – good christians all – were not averse to denouncing, torturing and killing their opponents, their critics, those whose doctrines differed slightly from their own, whose behavior, words or attire they disapproved of, those who offended or contradicted them. They called for the persecution, torture and execution of Catholics, heretics, adulterers and Jews (ironic, given their Lord himself was a Jew); they condemned comedy, colourful dress, decorative architecture. The arts were at best suspect, at worst the playground of the Devil. They disapproved of frivolity. and the unbeliever was damned to an eternity of excruciating torture in Hell. Voltaire wrote of Calvin, Zwingli and Luther that:  

“Shows and entertainments were expressly forbidden by their religion; and for more than two hundred years there was not a single musical instrument allowed in the city of Geneva.” The works of Voltaire : VOLUME XXVII. ANCIENT AND MODERN HISTORY.4 . CHARLES V., 1512—PHILIP II., 1584″. cristoraul.com. Retrieved 13 September 2015: Wikipedia.

“From the perspective of visual art and culture, the Reformation was one of the greatest catastrophes that ever befell Europe … in terms of paintings, murals, sculpture, architecture, and stained glass, the losses were irreparable. Centuries of vernacular culture and piety vanished within a generation.” – Philip Jenkins , Patheos

“The Protestant Reformation induced a wave of iconoclasm, or the destruction of religious imagery. All forms of Protestantism showed a degree of hostility to religious images, as idolatry, especially sculpture and large paintings. Protestant leaders, especially Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, actively eliminated imagery from churches within the control of their followers, and regarded the great majority of religious images as idolatrous, even plain crosses…”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_in_the_Protestant_Reformation_and_Counter-Reformation and

“The prototype of all modern forms of iconoclasm is found in Calvin’s Geneva and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s Mecca. Sixteenth-century Geneva witnessed one of the most devastating waves of religious image-breaking in history. Incited by a group of charismatic theologians – among them John Calvin himself – mobs raged against objects associated with miracles, magic and the supernatural, destroying some of the city’s most precious pieces of Christian art. Invoking the Second Commandment, they denounced these works as idols, and as remnants of a rural, feudal and superstitious world, a world corrupted by Satan… Nor  was Geneva unusual. In Basel in 1529, widespread iconoclastic riots destroyed virtually all the material tokens of traditional Catholic worship and devotion in the cathedral and the city’s leading churches. Even these German and Swiss manifestations were dwarfed by the devastating Storm of Images (Beeldenstorm) that swept over the Netherlands in 1566…. This movement was directed against any and all Catholic material symbols — against stained glass windows, statues of the Virgin and saints, holy medals and tokens…. Recent works, though, highlight two features of the movement that often get underplayed: 1. Iconoclasm was central to the Reformation experience, not marginal, and not just a regrettable extravagance…. 2.Analogies between the European Reformation and contemporary Islamism are much closer than many Protestants would like to admit.”


Jesus Wept – ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς – The Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35.

What would make Jesus weep?

If God wept, His tears would fall like rain across two thousand years of christianity.

In every age it seems Christ is crucified,
again and again and again
truth is repeatedly crucified,
often as not by those who claim to defend it.

I can only imagine that if Jesus had walked the streets of Reformation Germany or Switzerland, he’d soon have been arrested, tortured, expelled or executed. He was a Jew, after all. His message of forgiveness would not have gone down very well at all. This errant rabbi did not condemn the samaritan woman who, to the religious authorities of his day, was both an adulteress and a heretic. “John Calvin’s own step-daughter and son-in-law were among those condemned for adultery and executed.”

The Defenders of the Written Word, the emissaries of Sola Scriptura, claimed to know God’s Word – indeed they believed themselves to be the sole legitimate exponents and guardians of God’s Word. All other voices were, ipso facto, the voices of demons, of Satan himself. 

What would that itinerant preacher from Nazareth, That dusty rabbi do? 

His hands touch the leper. The prostitutes call to him from doorways. The demon-possessed shriek as he passes by. Children dance before him. The religious authorities conspire in dark cabals. The Romans – indifferent to jewish theological squabbles – nevertheless eye the crowd for signs of insurrection. A soldier implores the Jewish healer to have mercy on his sick daughter. There’s this Jew who can heal the sick, someone has told him. He forgives. Listens. Sees. Knows the hearts of men and their thoughts. Casts out demons. restores the insane. Speaks words that are hard to understand. He thirsts. He weeps. He reprimands. He terrifies. He speaks words of infinite love and forgiveness and of prophesy and judgement, punishment –  of weeping and gnashing of teeth… 

Which words are his?
Which words are attributed to him?
What words were pieced together later like shards
of a broken vessel more myth than earthenware?

Oral tradition found its way finally onto parchment. Aramaic words resolved into Greek. The Messiah left no journal, letters or notes.

We hardly know: time is a dense mist.

We claim to know him: each of us from our denominational enclaves of presuppositional truth believes we have found The One, while The One who eludes us is as opaque as his parables. Those who oppose him do so with equal confidence: they mock him, curse him, ignore him, deny his existence, declare him to be a myth – a sort of reinterpreted Horus, Mithras or Dionysus. Theologians of the stature of Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann and Richard Webster failed to find Jesus in the disorientating fog of the “Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung” – “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”.

Jesus is God’s riddle. He is God Incarnate, a heretic, a blasphemer, a rebel, an Essene, The Shoot of Jesse, the Son of Man. Saviour. He is the Lamb of God, The first-born, the Son of Mary, Emanuel – God with us, the Resurrection and the Life. The Bread of Life. The Alpha and Omega. The Image of the Invisible God, Mediator, Priest. The True Light. The Way, the Truth, the Life. The Good Shepherd. Accursed of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Lion of Judah, Holy One, Peace-Maker, Messiah, A paradox, a stumbling block, an aramaic-speaking Jew from a dusty backwater of a pagan empire, born in a stable amidst cows and goats. Born to a young woman the locals call a whore. Perhaps she was raped by a Roman soldier, others whisper.

Would the stern calvinist judges of the theocracy in Geneva have believed the young Mary’s explanation of her miraculous impregnation by the Paraclete, announced by an angelic visitation? Or would she have suffered the traditional fate of blasphemers and heretics in Reformation Europe? (“Calvin believed that it was just and right for heretics to be put to death.” – Source: Matt Gross, reformedanswers.org)

And what of Jesus?

“… as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me”

In every act of human cruelty perpetrated by the Reformers,
I see Christ murdered by christians.


For a defence of John Calvin: http://reformedanswers.org/answer.asp/file/39726
Calvin: http://etb-history-theology.blogspot.co.za/2012/03/execution-of-child-and-adulterers-in.html?m=1

“Adultery, which, before Calvin’s return [to Geneva], was punished only by an imprisonment of some days, or by a trifling fine, was now punished with death. An adulteress was drowned in the Rhone. Thus two citizens of the best families (Heinrich Philip and Jacques le Nevue) were beheaded .”– J. M. V. Audin, History of the Life, Works, and Doctrines of John Calvin, trans. Rev. John McGill, (Louisville, R. J. Webb & Brother)


Notes & Sources

Geneva’s motto: Post Tenebras Lux: After darkness, Light

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Reformation.aspx (overview of the Reformation and it’s legacy)

Reformation Iconoclasts:
The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence and the Culture of Image-Breaking in Christianity and Islam by James Noyes

Valuable bibliography by at Philip Jenkins at Patheos: 

Carlos M. N. Eire, War Against the Idols (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
Lee Palmer Wanderl, Voracious Idols and Violent Hands (Cambridge University Press, 1995).
Virginia Chieffo Raguin, ed., Art, Piety and Destruction in the Christian West, 1500-1700 (Ashgate, 2010).
Eamon Duffy’s brilliant The Stripping of the Altars is in a second (2005) edition.
For an older work, see John Phillips, The Reformation of Images: Destruction of Art in England, 1535-1660 (University of California Press, 1973)




Papal Persecutions




Zwingli’s nose

images (8)

I admit to a certain fascination with the Protestant Reformers. My motives are mixed: I am genuinely interested in this particular period of history, but this is also about silencing voices in my head. 

The Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli et al) were the fathers of the Protestant church, so it makes sense – as an erstwhile protestant – that I try to understand a little about them. I will be accused – and rightly so – of focusing solely on the more sinister aspects of the Reformation – it’s theological squabbles, intolerance and persecutions. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to attempt an investigation of the Reformers’ lives and times – and there are thousands of volumes written by historians and theologians which provide a full and expert insight into the Reformers lives and beliefs. Rather it is this odd fascination of mine with the pathologies of the Reformers which I want to explore a little in this blog. It is precisely this space of amateur conjecture I wish to enter. What is this space exactly? Perhaps it is the gap between notions of Christian truth as expressed by the contemporary church – and the cruelties perpetrated by the Reformers in the belief they were the emissaries and representatives of Jesus Christ. Or it may be an irreverent consideration of their likenesses in stone or their painted portraits, which precipitate a kind of darkly humorous meditation: Zwingli’s nose looks the perfect instrument for sniffing out heretics. The imposing statue of John Calvin at the ‘Reformation Wall’ in Geneva has a coldness that is as chilling as his doctrines: his is a stern and merciless look. Holbein’s Luther looks like the unkempt monk the Catholic Church despised as a reprobate and heretic.

I know the flaws of the Reformers do not invalidate the teachings of their Master; but one wonders nevertheless how Jesus, who comforted the weak, the outcasts, those on the periphery or outside of ‘decent’ society, could be so misrepresented by these leaders of the church.

Or was it a misrepresentation?

I want to explore the shadows of my own faith – not to oppose God with the “narcissistic anti-religious extremism”(1) of a Richard Dawkins; but to overthrow a certain false conception of God. I want to pry off the cold iron mask that obscures His face, a mask nailed and bolted there by men.


So my blog is not a theological or historical treatise but a sort of profane rambling in which I seek to disrupt certainties and received wisdom.

The thought keeps recurring that poetry, dance, music and art are expressions of truth no less valid than philosophy and theology … and if I were competent at any of the arts I would attempt to express ineffable things. As it is I must enter the voices of others, find voices which I can sing with, poetry the words of which articulate what I fail to express, art that is a window on world’s I can only dream of, dance which explodes ossified ways of moving. (Suddenly I imagine a modern dance before the stoney-eyed men of the Reformation wall; half-naked dancers moving in a physical, sensual celebration of life. What a theatrical performance it would be to show contemporary dance juxtaposed with a disapproving Calvinist court! I imagine the court sentencing the dancers to have their feet nailed into wooden planks before being burnt alive for their immodest and blasphemous dance – and this punishment would be in Christ’s name.


The spirit of legalism,
of calvinist self-righteousness,
of puritan cruelty,
re-emerges in every age like a wraith
in the guise of Christ.

1983. Durban. South Africa.
Why does this date always conjure the wraith?
I was nineteen: falsely accused of adultery, I was excommunicated from a pentecostal church
– The Assemblies of God.
Some while later – no more than a year – the woman I had briefly loved, died in a car crash.
the elders and minister of The Assemblies of God, stopping short of claiming her death was God’s judgement –  inferred that God was not to be trifled with. A bearded, charismatic prophet on a motorbike warned me shortly before her death that if I did not break off my “relationship” with this “evil”woman, “Something terrible would happen”.


images (6)


Whether you agree with Calvin’s theological system or not, there’s no question that John Calvin has made an indelible mark on today’s Christianity, especially American evangelicalism. And like all highly influential Christians, Calvin has been hailed and hammered, loved and loathed, adored and abhorred.” – Frank Viola, Patheos 

I have been  reading about the Protestant Reformation. I am a novice here: I must defer to historians and theologians to access the Facts –  if such they are.

“Among all those who have been born of women, there has not risen a greater than John Calvin; no age, before him ever produced his equal, and no age afterwards has seen his rival. In theology, he stands alone, shining like a bright fixed star, while other leaders and teachers can only circle round him, at a great distance — as comets go streaming through space — with nothing like his glory or his permanence” . . . “the longer I live the clearer does it appear that John Calvin’s system is the nearest to perfection.”

~ Charles Spurgeon

Disquieting, given that,

“Jacques Gruet was also a man who disagreed with Calvin. He called Calvin an ambitious and haughty hypocrite. The administrations of Geneva tortured Gruet twice daily until he confessed, and with Calvin’s concurrence, Gruet was tied to a stake, his feet were nailed to it, and his head was cut off for blasphemy and rebellion.”-Frank Viola, Patheos

So much for Calvin shining like a bright fixed star.

The author of the essay at Patheos cautions against hasty judgements against the Reformers; I guess there is something surreptitious and subversive in my rummaging around in the pathologies of that time. It is a subterfuge on my part aimed at retaliating against the Calvinist apologist at CARM who selfrighteously told me I was going to hell.


Last night in a dream

Last night in a dream, an Anglican priest showed me a video in which an Arab Christian – whom I assumed to be Armenian or Chaldean Catholic (he was in Iraq) – implored the church in the West to forget it’s petty local squabbles and to take seriously the persecution of Christians in the Arab world. He struggled to hold back tears as he spoke of beheadings and the torture of believers by Islamist fanatics. In the dream, the Anglican priest was kind and in earnest – there was a sense of the need to set aside the unimportant for the important, pettiness for loving-kindness, indifference for meaningful action.